Architecture in Focus: April 2014
Architecture in Focus: April 2014
Our pick of this month's architecture news and events
By Owen Hopkins
Published 11 April 2014
Swimming in the Thames, a new Serpentine Pavilion and the Pritzker Prize winner announced.
Ebbsfleet Garden City?
The Chancellor last month announced plans for a new Garden City at Ebbsfleet in North Kent. Few doubt the urgent need for new housing in the south-east of England and Ebbsfleet, with its Eurostar station, is an obvious site – but is a new Garden City the answer? The Garden City movement was inaugurated in 1898 by Ebenezer Howard's To-morrow: a Peaceful Path to Real Reform, conceived as a direct response to the squalor of the inner cities. Today, cities are barely recognisable from their dark Victorian days. With the rise of commuting and foreign property investment, our cities now require radically different responses to housing. Perhaps the simplest dampener on the Chancellor’s proposal is that the planned 15,000 new homes are 5,000 less than promised in 2012!
Last year we ran a design workshop with the Architecture Foundation and Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners aiming to spark new ideas to improve London’s relationship to the Thames. We had some fascinating responses: from ‘River Rooms’ to real-time crowd-sourced digital layers. One of the most seductive was a proposal for 'Thames Baths' at Blackfriars by a team that included architects Studio Octopi, Jonathan Cook Landscape Architects and Civic Engineers. Taking advantage of the new ‘Super Sewer', which will make the Thames clean enough to swim, the project aims to let Londoners 'liberate themselves from the intensity of the city by swimming in the Thames… in as natural an environment as possible’. The project is gaining some momentum and more information is available here: thamesbaths.com or follow the project on Facebook
The Serpentine Gallery have announced the designer of their annual summer pavilion and you might be forgiven for having never heard of him. Most of Smiljan Radic built works are located in his native Chile and his architecture remains satisfyingly hard to define. He makes use of a wide and ever expanding range of materials to creative works of surprising diversity. The renderings of his design show a translucent egg-like structure supported by several large boulders that create a space a further space underneath the structure. It is an intriguing and refreshing response to a commission that now seems to be moving beyond being a simple roll-call of past Pritzker Prize winners.
Pritzker Prize for Shigeru Ban
Can paper be a useful building material? The work of Japanese architect Shigeru Ban has shown it definitely can be. And now he has been awarded the 2014 Pritzker Prize, architecture’s highest honour. Ban's most famous work is probably the 'cardboard cathedral' in Christchurch, New Zealand, a stunning example of architecture’s power to raise the spirits amid the destruction of the devastating 2011 earthquake. The Pritzker often rewards a long career in architecture, but for Ban it has come at a midpoint, which he himself is conscious of: "I see this prize as encouragement for me to keep doing what I am doing – not to change what I am doing, but to grow."
Being: An Architect
The RA has just published Being: An Architect, two volumes of memoirs and writings by Ian Ritchie RA, one of Britain’s most thoughtful and original architects. Here is just one of a whole host of inspirational remarks from the book: "Living a life through architecture shows me that in every collaboration there is a chance to grow, and that gives the greatest of pleasures, both personal fulfilment and the satisfaction of watching that growth in others in the studio. Yet I am so aware that the only certainty about certainty is its uncertainty. Nothing is given, nothing sure. It is my philosophy, what underpins the art of living to begin every morning when I wake with a smile, and this is the expression I enjoy every day in the faces of the people I work with." See a video interview with Ritchie below.
Owen Hopkins is Acting Manager of the RA's Architecture Programme.